County committee of the whole gave approval March 10 for a mandate for a new economic development position.

The role was recommended in a service delivery review and included in the 2021 budget. When approved, the new position will include creating an updated community profile, identifying gaps in the workforce, business retention and expansion, marketing assistance and developing a concierge service to help potential new businesses.

Coun. Cec Ryall said Highlands East’s economic development department has had its struggles in scope. He said the County department should help address that.

“What we found was our voice was nowhere near strong enough, nor were we capable of handling the scope of some of the things that need to be done,” Ryall said. “I know there’s going to be governance issues, I know there’s going to be jurisdictional issues, but I think this is going to be one awesome beginning.”

CAO Mike Rutter proposed the position have an approximate compensation of $96,500 to $118,830. The County has budgeted $100,000, taken from provincial safe restart dollars.

Rutter also recommended a tourism and economic development committee to oversee the department, replacing a disbanded tourism advisory committee. Rutter suggested it would be made up of councillors from each municipality, to implement the County’s Destination Management plan. Rutter also said two departments would be needed to connect with the public for consultation in both sectors.

Coun. Carol Moffatt questioned the governance structure and said economic development and tourism committees should be kept separate. But she added having public input separate from a committee structure makes sense.

“We need to make sure we have clear-cut expectations and focus on specific outcomes to effect change in the community for the better,” Moffatt said.

Council directed staff to develop a job description based on input and forward the report to townships.

Township economic development uncertain

Ryall said Highlands East has a robust economic development committee. He said they do not plan to fold it but want to ensure the township and County departments can work together.

“I know there is a lot of economic development activity happening already,” Rutter responded. “We need to make sure we don’t duplicate but complement that.”

Coun. Brent Devolin said Minden had its own full-time economic development position but paused on filling it to see the County’s direction. He said communication to the municipalities is needed as the file progresses.

“I know we’re kind of sitting and waiting to see the evolution of what happens here,” Devolin said. “Whether the type of initiatives that we were trying to do at the municipal level will be mainly covered.”

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